Oh my GAWD! Don't SAY that.
First, a warning. I'm going to be wishy-washy as hell in this post because I'm not 100% sure how I feel about this subject. I'm kind of writing and working through it as I go, but I think that's ok. So many people seem absolutely sure about everything these days and I always feel a little queasy about that kind brash confidence. I shrink away from it. Just because something sounds right doesn't mean it is right. And just because someone is loud really doesn't mean they're right. Maybe there's some value in saying I'm not sure or I need to think about it or even I don't know.
I have recently caught myself more than once saying or thinking, “Oh my Gawd! Don't SAY that!" And it bothers me because I'm a big freedom of speech gal. But, here lately ‘freedom of speech' seems to be more like ‘freedom to be an asshole and purposely hurt other people' and I'm not down with that.
Not long ago, I expressed my frustration on Facebook about the increased use of the word ‘retard' ---
Can we PLEASE stop using the word ‘retard' or ‘retarded' - as in, “You're a retard." or “Stop being so retarded." Surely (SURELY!) we are better than this, folks. But apparently not. I have been seeing it all over the place. People calling each other ‘retards' in the comments section of blogs, people saying that a policy is ‘retarded' if they don't agree with it, people commenting on my Facebook posts in response to another friend's comment with various insults - ‘the short bus', ‘you must be retarded', etc.
Here's the thing - I once called someone a retard in the 4th grade. A teacher overheard, pulled me to the side, and explained why the word was hurtful and cruel to use against another person. And I got it. If a 4th grader can understand why this word is destructive, then surely grown adults can understand it too.
If we lived in a fair world, to say, “You're so retarded" would actually mean something entirely different. Maybe - “You're so loving." or “You're very selfless." Because the intellectually disabled people I have known have all been good people. But no, instead we (society) take the easy way out. Instead of looking past differences that scare us, and seeing the true good that is there, we focus on and make fun of physical and intellectual differences. We laugh and bully people for being born with challenges that we cannot even begin to fathom.
Of course, you have the right (free speech and all that) to call anyone anything you want. But if you do use the word retarded, know that you are labeling yourself more than you are ever labeling someone else. Hint: You're an asshole.
Another example: After I graduated from college I visited a friend who was working in New York City. My friend was showing me the sites and a striking Asian woman passed us on the sidewalk. I nudged my friend and said, “Wow! Did you see that gorgeous Oriental woman?"
My friend gave me the are-you-crazy stink eye and said, “Lower your voice. Oriental is used for rugs. Not people. I can tell by the appreciation in your voice that you didn't mean anything negative, but you can't say that."
I had no idea. I grew up in the deep South and at the time people still used the word Oriental to describe people. I didn't know it was derogatory. I was embarrassed and ashamed and I never used the word again in reference to people.
These examples, for me, are pretty black-and-white.
If you say something hurtful, are corrected, and knowingly continue to use destructive words, then you can't whine about the consequences.
If you want to say cruel things then you also have to accept that most people will lose respect for you and not want to be around you. If you persist, they may even think you're an unsophisticated person who is unable or unwilling to change. You will be dismissed in the minds of many.
By expressing your freedom of speech to say whatever you want regardless of who you hurt, you will actually lose your voice because there will be no one left to listen.
Then there are what I call the ‘dreaded phrases'. These are the things that people say when they mean well, but just don't know what to say:
Everything happens for a reason. (a rant about this below! keep reading)
Just be positive!
Anything that starts with ‘at least'. Me: I lost my cat! Well-meaning person: At least you have another cat.
With these and similar phrases, I realize I have no right to say you can't say that. The intent here is totally different - most people are trying to help and they just don't know what to say so they rely on phrases that have been said to them in the past. But maybe instead of using the same tired expressions that help no one, we could try saying something like this instead:
That’s awful. I hear you. I understand why you are in so much pain.
I know nothing I can say can make this better for you. I won’t even try. But I will listen anytime.
Or as my friend, Lisa, said to me once:
You’re in the shit. It sucks. I see you and I’ve been there. Sometimes to get out of the shit, you just have to sit there and feel it. I’m here for you anytime - when you’re in the shit, or when you pull yourself out.
Here’s the problem with the ‘dreaded phrases’ - we say them because we want so desperately to connect and make the other person feel better, but it does just the opposite. It pushes people away because it sounds flippant. You’ve used a well-worn phrase and it sounds like you haven’t thought about the person standing in front of you and their unique situation. And here’s the truth:
When something god-awful happens you cannot make it better.
So don’t try to make it better. Sit with your friend. Listen to them. Love them and find out what they really need. Or don’t. I’m not the boss of you :)
Commence ‘Everything Happens For A Reason’ Rant:
And here’s the dark side of the dreaded phrases - there are some people who cannot handle your pain. It terrifies them. So they use the phrases to purposely push you away because they aren’t equipped to deal. I’ve had a number of miscarriages over the years and I got a lot of the ‘everything happens for a reason’ and ‘God needed another angel’ thing. Some people were genuinely hurting for me and wanted me to feel better, while others felt my fear and took it on as their own. They made it about their own fears of loss, etc. Even more complicated were the people who made me into some sort of heroine. A heroine doesn’t really feel pain, or if she does it has some sort of meaning in the end.
There are People Who don’t want to hear or accept that sometimes life is shit.
sometimes things don’t work out for the best.
My perspective: Everything happens. The ‘reason’ in ‘everything happens for a reason’ is that you’re alive. You do something (cause) and there is an effect. I know people who have been murdered, raped, have lost a child, etc. I don’t believe that there is a fluffy-cloud reason for their suffering. I understand the urge to want everything to make sense and that it’s easier to fall asleep at night thinking that there is a reason for the truly hideous things that humans sometimes do to each other. I’m not suggesting you change your belief - God knows we all need our sleep! If you believe that everything happens for a reason, fine —
But think about what you’re going to say to someone who is in awful pain before you say it. It’s the least you can do for them.
Finally, to make all of this super complicated - I love inappropriate humor. LOVE it. How delicious when someone says or does something outrageous and I know I shouldn’t be laughing, but I can’t help myself. And I guess, that’s what’s called a paradox - or, being human.